As any of you who have been kind enough to read my warbling will know I tend to use humour in my writing. I’m afraid this article does not meet that expectation. It is about Ukraine.
My last article was about Ukraine too . I hate to think that it was prescient. I have no claims to being a sooth sayer or clairvoyant, possibly the words formed in my brain and just fell onto the keyboard in an uncharacteristically rational form.
Having travelled in and enjoyed Ukraine relatively recently I’m not sure I can rely on rationalism for what I’m writing here
I re-read my last article last night and thought of Yuliana . You will need read that article to understand why . I also read John Mowat’s excellent article here too.
What strikes me about both my article and John’s is that what has happened was all predictable and it implies a mixture of a lack of leadership and political cowardice that leaves us scratching our heads and pretty much without a plan .
The political cowardice and lack of leadership relates to the fact that the evidence of Putin’s intended tactics go back decades, have been trialled in the Middle East and have not been confronted. It suited us not to, and that was “ there” not on our door step. Which speaks volumes about the foreign policy values of successive Governments of both shades.
It is all very scary, because as John pointed out, Putin is a rather scary man, you don’t get to head the KGB without that quality . But being scared is not a good place from which to make wise decisions .
I have a very good friend for whom I have a great deal of respect who said yesterday “ those who call for a no fly zone are wrong it will lead to war and how does incinerating my grandchildren help Ukrainian children ?”
I completely agree with his last point but not what leads him to say it.
It strikes me that when you face a bully who is beating up your friend, you a) don’t give him ground for believing you will tolerate him doing that and b) don’t negotiate with him by saying “ I have big stick but I will only hit you with it if you come to my house .” Which it seems is what our political leadership in Johnson and Wallace have confirmed publicly by saying they will not under any circumstances authorise a no fly zone for fear of direct confrontation with Russian forces .
In response to a question today in a press conference in Estonia Mr Wallace said that you could not draw parallels with the Nato no fly zone over the former states of Yugoslavia because that did not include Russia just Serbia. I wonder if , on the bullet strewn streets of Kharkiv, that sounds a little like “ I don’t mind facing up to bullies but not really big ones ?”
I wonder, actually I don’t because history tells us better , if JFK thought of that as his response in the Cuban Missile Crisis ?
Whether you intend to use that tactic or not and I completely recognise the potentially horrific down side, it seems a form of vacuous naivety to reveal your tactics in a public forum and something of a licence for them to proceed at their pleasure ?
My friend also said that those who speak of Putin’s action in parallel with those of the Third Reich in the 1930s and 40s, are wrong . Again I respectfully request to differ in my opinion . My adoptive parents were Jewish so I consider myself qualified to say that genocide by carpet bombing innocent civilians may not be the organised use of gas chambers but it is still genocide. Goebbels would be proud of the manipulation of the Russian media. Hitler had Guernica, Putin has Aleppo, (another beautiful city I have visited) both reduced to rubble with no concern for innocents in the way of lethal force.
Some have said that Putin would not use the same tactics in Ukraine and Kyiv because it is a European Capital . That is a racist conclusion that has no bearing on his tactics, decision making or past history.
It is reported that Russia has moved Thermobaric weapons into Ukraine . They make a big bang, they suck the oxygen out of an area and vaporise bodies . They are also known as vacuum bombs and come in different sizes and delivery mechanisms . They are useful to attack fixed formations or for mass destruction of urban areas. They’re ready to be used.
But before we get too judgemental, remember, the USA used them in Afghanistan in 2017.
Perhaps that is the point. If you recall that the only nation who has shown willingness to use a nuclear bomb, in fact two, on a civilian targets is the USA, then is there is room to consider that ordinary Russians could have a reason be concerned about nuclear weapons on their doorstep? The NATO paradigm that the Russian public are exposed to by their government is not the defensive one that we understand .
I am no war monger, I personally share the view that a no fly zone is dangerous but how we are handling this is ridiculous, it lacks both leadership and forethought . Playing to our public without thinking through what the noises politicians make sound like to others . As an example Sergei Viktorovich Lavrov, Russia’s foreign Minister, quotes Putin’s decision to put his nuclear forces on high alert down to a reaction to a poorly worded rash statement by Liz Truss….why am I not surprised? If a dog you don’t like wants a bone why throw him it Liz?
Say little do much is a good mantra in a crisis.
Will it stop in Ukraine? Putin’s rambling speech suggested he has fantasies of getting back the old Soviet Union. I’d be nervous if I were a Baltic State right now.
Lavrov said today that it is only Nato that is talking of nuclear war, but does Putin share the same horror of that which we do? Is it a deterrent to him seeking to take further States? The next step beyond Ukraine would trigger a NATO response , does he, based on what he is seeing right now of the West’s response, really think there will be one ?
Plenty to be worried about but there are a couple of other things that concern me .
It worries me that there may be conflicting incentives at play. I’ll throw in the thought and expect to be criticised . So let me ask the question . Who does it benefit for Russia to be involved in an ongoing blood war in Ukraine that totally drains its economy and its military infrastructure? Not I think, Europe. So who ?
Related, but my other train of thought is that is why I worry about the UK pinning its foreign policy so closely to that of the USA and not Europe. We all see things differently. Geography matters as much as history .
But there has to be an end game. There always is .
It could be that Ukraine is obliterated from the political map by Russia but that will not be the end game for Ukrainians or other European countries. It might be a fact of life but can it possibly be tolerable?
It is possible that Putin is past persuasion .
I personally cannot believe that sanctions will work with him . Dictators rarely care about reducing their public to poverty. Theirs is a greater dream for which any sacrifice is acceptable. To be blunt I’m not sure there can be a solution with Putin . I have heard him called a “ lunatic.” He isn’t . If you look at literal meaning of the word “ barbarian “ then that is far closer to his actions and values. It is a very different form of psychosis. Perhaps he should have had PTSD counselling when he left the KGB. Let it go Vladimir. Let it go .
But there are others with other dreams.
Sanctions may work with those others in Russia but so may hard words that they listen to because their moral compass is just marginally less warped.
I wonder for instance if in his words today Lavrov wasn’t perhaps very carefully indicating a direction of travel? He spoke of the fact that Putin’s actions are approved by his Government in an entirely legitimate way . That suggests a process.
A journalist, I think it was Simon Jenkins in the Guardian said something along the line of “ this can only be ended by a comprise that we will have to hold our noses to achieve .” It strikes me that he is right. But it also strikes me that to get there it needs a great deal more strength first being shown by our leaders .
The USA was absolutely right to cancel the test of the Minuteman ICBM this week. The prospect of that being misread or worse deliberately misconstrued doesn’t bear thinking about. But there are other ways of being strong beyond sanctions.
Is there a compromise available ? Even Simon Jenkins smelly compromise? I sense there has to be .
But for now, in the words of possibly the most inspiring comedian in history, President of the sovereign nation of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy:-
Glory to Ukraine
Glory to the Heroes.